Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's It All About, Alfie?


Oddly, when I saw the trailer for Closing Time, the first thing to enter my mind was, of all things, Spaceballs.  I remembered the scene where the great John Hurt (a potential Kennedy Center Honoree) made a cameo in the film, spoofing his role in Alien.  When the monster burst out of Hurt's body, Hurt looked down at it and said, "Oh no, not again" before the alien burst out himself...into a hilarious version of Hello My Baby.  When I saw roly-poly Craig Owens (James Corden) from The Lodger pop up as a guest star, those were my exact words...oh no, not again!

The fact that The Lodger was one of the worst Series/Season Five episodes did not bode well for Closing Time.  Coming right after The God Complex (which was one of the worst episodes of Doctor Who I've seen) actually helped it.  Then I saw the episode, and while it wasn't terrible in the Love & Monsters vein (albeit NOTHING could be as awful as all that), it was really...nothing.  Closing Time is really a nothing episode: it doesn't stand all that well as a stand-alone episode, and it doesn't add anything to the season/series that we already didn't know or at least figure out. 

We check back in with Craig Owens and his 'companion' Sophie (Daisy Haggard).  It's been at least one year since The Lodger, and they now have a baby: Alfie.  Sophie is highly concerned about leaving Alfie with Craig for the weekend, but Craig insists he can handle his son.  Wouldn't you know it: just like in The Lodger, when Craig opens the door expecting Sophie, it's the Doctor (Matt Smith) at the door.  The Doctor is making what he calls his 'farewell tour', so decided to stop in on Craig.  He also finds he is better able to handle Alfie (who in baby-speak according to the Doctor likes to be called Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All) than dear Daddy.

The very next day, Craig is stunned to find The Doctor working in the toy department of the local department store (where his name tag reads "The Doctor").  There is something nefarious afoot: the lights in town are going in and out, and people are disappearing.  As we delve into the story, we see that the Cybermen are behind this machinations.  We also see the domestic side of the Doctor and Craig, especially as the Cybermat threatens the two men and the baby...

This is important, as the Doctor's co-worker Val (Lynda Baron) thinks the Doctor and Craig are 'partners' (which is better than the old-fashioned term 'companion').  The Doctor finally finds the Cybermen ship, but when Craig attempts to rescue the Doctor, he is captured and about to be turned into a Cyberman himself.  However, when the Cyber-Craig hears Alfie's cry, he is able to rally and defeat the Cybermen.

Oh, and we have a bit where River Song (Alex Kingston) is confronted by Madame Kevorkian...I mean Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), where Dr. Song is given her kill the Doctor.  She IS The Impossible Astronaut...

As If We Didn't Already Know...

Sorry fellas.  It was telegraphed, televised, and texted throughout the galaxy for two seasons/series: River Song was going to "kill" the Doctor.  Anyone who didn't think she was the one who was going to pull the trigger in Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 had to not been paying attention.  Unless...well, not having seen The Wedding of River Song, perhaps Steven Moffat will have one last good twist.  Always optimistic.

In regards to Closing Time itself, contrary to popular belief I'm not opposed to having comedy in Doctor Who.  A fine example of a comedic Doctor Who is The Romans from the First Doctor era.  I laughed quite a bit, but that was the intention.  Moreover, The Romans was funny but not stupid..there was a reason for the comedy, and it kept some serious moments as well.  Closing Time by comparison, had very peculiar turns that I found more disturbing than amusing, and it also had some points that were more irritating than hilarious.   

Let's start out with the Cybermen themselves.  I think they are one of the best Doctor Who villains, but here, they really didn't do much of anything.  If you could either substitute another villain without disrupting the story or could have had an entirely new villain altogether, then the villain/monster used is irrelevant.  In Closing Time, the Cybermen weren't a major part of the story because the story was never about the Cybermen.  It was more about giving Craig a shot at full-on Companion status.

I digress to find that the "gay humor" was frankly eye-rolling.  When the Doctor attempts to stop Craig from seeing that he had been transported onto a spaceship, the Doctor does this by insinuating that he is in love with Craig, drawing him closer and even coming close to kissing him.  Another part of the "people think we're homosexuals but it's really suppose to be funny so it's OK because these silly little mix-ups happen" is whenever Val thinks that Craig and the Doctor are "partners".  The Doctor, in his perpetual cluelessness, thinks she means "Companion" as in his assistant, when really she means "lover/sex partner".  Whatever people's sexual identity is really no interest to me, but haven't we moved on past this Man About the House/Three's Company-style of humor where we're suppose to think that something is funny when people think someone is gay?

Another issue I had with Closing Time is that Gareth Roberts' script reinforces one of the oldest stereotypes in the world: that men are simply too inept to handle child-rearing.  In fact most of the humor stems from the fact that no one trust Craig to watch over Alfie.  Even worse, if anyone with a total IQ of two saw exactly what Craig did, they would see and confirm that Craig indeed IS too inept to watch his son, and even question whether he should have visitation rights altogether. 

What truly amazes me about Closing Time is the casual disregard Craig and the Doctor (and by extension, Roberts and director Steve Hughes) have towards Alfie.  Here the Doctor and Craig are, chasing a Silver Rat (which we should know is a Cybermat) and what do they do?  They bring Alfie with them!  One wonders how no one ever thought to bring a baby with them earlier?  Later on, when Craig goes to save the Doctor, he easily hands Alfie over to Val with not even a how'do.  I was thoroughly astonished that Craig could pass off his son to someone he may have met once.  How would he know that Val wasn't part of the Cyber-plot for world domination? 

I'm With Stupid....

I simply couldn't help think that it was bad enough that Closing Time was making the case that men were too incompetent to be good parents (especially with babies), but that it showed Craig to truly be both irresponsible and stupid by exposing Alfie to a myriad of dangers.  I know I may be accused of taking all this much too seriously, but I still find it shocking that even on a television show, people can be so cavalier about the decisions made in regards to children. 

Now, the reason little Alfie HAD to be at the store was because it is Craig's love for his son that will allow him to break off from Cybercontrol and defeat the Cybermen.  I read somewhere that recent Doctor Whos have become so Companion-centered that the resolution didn't come from anything the Doctor did, but instead by the actions of his Companions.  There certainly is merit to this charge, but in Closing Time, we may have reached the nadir...

"I blew them up with love", Craig says, marveling at how easy it was to defeat the small Cyberman army.  Besides being one of the dumbest lines ever spoken on Doctor Who (certainly among the cheesiest),  it makes one wonder just how pathetic the Cybermen can be if they can be brought down with a crying baby.  Well, in this case, I suppose these Cybermen really are stupid...seriously, to think they'd conquer the Earth with CRAIG as their leader?!?

I will digress to wonder about a plot point.  When Val inquires whether Craig is "married", he tells her that they've talked about it but decided no, giving that tired line of "it's just a paper, isn't it?".  Here I will get a touch reactionary and say that this is a ridiculous argument against the idea of marriage.

Marriage is not "just a piece of paper"; it is a legal agreement and public declaration that you will 'forsake all others' and you will make your children legitimate.  I know that times have changed to where bearing bastards is no longer something to be ashamed of (it's now a point of pride to be illegitimate) but not for me.  Moreover, I think that by just "shacking up" it signals that one or both people simply don't want to burden of acknowledging that they want to stay together for the rest of their lives. 

Yes, sadly marriages now are easy to get out of (to where getting a divorce is easier than getting a bank loan) but when people say "it's just a piece of paper", I instinctly roll my eyes and want to whack'em.  It's not just a piece of paper.  It's saying publicly that you intend to have no other person share your bed or your life.  It's making a legal declaration that you wish to spend the rest of your life with someone.  It's recognizing publicly a child as your own and no one else's.  I personally detest this 'it's just a piece of paper' business, because to me, it says, 'I like having sex with you, but I don't love you enough to make it legal'. 

Well, now that you've had my sermon, back to Closing Time.

The cameos by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amelia Pond and her husband What's His Name were gratuitous (and for a moment, confusing).  Corden to me came off as rather whiny, stupid, and tending to shout and go into hysterics a lot.  Smith becomes goofier by the episode, and Closing Time appears to be nothing but filler for the epic finale.  Hence, the reappearance of our hated River Song.  I thought Barber as Madame Kevorkian...or Kovarian...or the Eye-Patch Lady was delighting is being so over-the-top in the "evil" department, but in fairness the final shot of River in the spacesuit, waiting to emerge for her Big Moment in Lake Silencio (which in case you didn't know, is "Silence" in Spanish...funny thing, that) was beautifully rendered. 

I couldn't help but think two things at this denouement.  One, given how River does not want to kill the Doctor, wouldn't it be better to think of her as The Manchurian Astronaut?  Two, given how Closing Time really had very little to do with those last three to five minutes (apart from setting up to the first episode in Series/Season Five), wouldn't we have put some better use to our time in setting up THAT story and had Craig and baby be the last few minutes sans Cybermen?  Just a thought. 

Finally, is it just me, or does Closing Time (with its aliens in a department store storyline) seem to echo Rose to where it almost plays like a remake (down to where the Companion is the one who saves the day)?  Also, is it just me, or does when Craig menaces the Cybermen with a scanner in Closing Time echo or mirror when the Doctor menaced the Beast Above with his electric toothbrush in The Lodger?

Closing Time, in the end, is perhaps even worse than merely a bad episode.  Closing Time is a useless one.

On account that Rory Williams did not appear in Closing Time (apart from a pointless and unnecessary cameo), we alas cannot have a Rory Williams Death Count (although it still stands at 4.1).  However, given that Craig Owens took Rory's place as the bumbling human male (following in the footsteps of Mickey Smith and the illustrious Mr. Pond...I mean, Williams), we'll have to improvise:

Craig Owens Death Count
In Episode: One
Overall: One


Monday, April 23, 2012

What Are You So Afraid Of?


Would it be hideous to say that The God Complex is an absolute disaster?  Would it be so awful to say that The God Complex comes dangerously close to approaching Love & Monsters-like status as one of the worst Doctor Who episodes of not just the 11th Doctor's era, but of ALL TIME?  The fact that its failure  cannot be placed on River Song or anything outside what would be a core Doctor Who story makes the fiasco of The God Complex even more appalling. 

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband (Arthur Darvill) find themselves in a mysterious hotel.  We already know what they don't: this hotel is creepier than the Overlook in The Shining.  There is a monster out in the corridors, hunting those inside down.  Every room is special to one being, containing that which frightens them more than anything else.  Once they are finally overwhelmed by their fear, they are powerless, except to "Praise him" before they are killed.

The Travellers soon come across three others trapped inside Horror Hotel (the name I've given it). Two are human: blogger/conspiracy theorist Howie (Dimitri Leonidas) and medical student Rita (Amara Karan).  The third is an alien: Gibbins (David Walliams), a Tivolian from Tivoli (the most invaded planet in the galaxy).  After it's established that the new arrivals are not part of what's been menacing them (Rory tells them that they are nice, much to Amy's irritation), they tell the Travellers of Joe (Daniel Pirrie), who is close to insanity.  He's literally tied up in the dining room, surrounded by ventriloquist dummies.  Why dummies?  Well, he used to be afraid of them, but not anymore.  He's ready to "praise him".  Soon, he is broken free by invisible forces and surrenders to 'him'.  While there are no injuries to his body, he is dead.

The Doctor figures things out: this hotel literally feeds off the fears of the beings trapped. The very British Rita (her response to this crisis is to make tea) has another theory: she's in Jahannam (the Muslim idea of Hell).  We then get a small recap of what we saw in the opening: the previous survivor's final notes explaining how her fear overwhelmed her to 'praise him'.  Soon, Howie becomes infected to 'praise him'.

We soon see what is menacing them: a literal Minotaur.  The Doctor learns from him that the Minotaur doesn't want to kill, but is compelled to.  Soon, he offs Howie (who room contains his greatest fear: girls).  Even Rita, whom the Doctor thinks would make a great Companion, falls prey, but gets the Doctor to block the viewing of her death.  The Doctor realizes the truth: the Minotaur doesn't feed on fear but on faith.  Those who are about to die reflectively go back to their faith to protect them, and this seals their fate.  Rory has never found his room because he isn't religious (like Rita) or superstitious (like Joe the gambler).  It's next target is Amy.

Amy thus is forced to face her faith: her faith in the Doctor.  As the Minotaur comes closer to Amy's room, the Doctor easily breaks her faith in him (emphasis mine).  With that, the Minotaur dies and we find that the hotel is really computer-generated.  It was a prison where the Minotaur was placed but given this 'food', but which got stuck in repeat somehow.  The Doctor takes Amy and Rory back to Earth, and tells Amy they must live their lives.  With that, he does the unthinkable: he leaves them.

Toby Whithouse's script for The God Complex is brimming with ideas, good ideas, that never come to fruition.  The idea of a monster feeding off people's fear is a great idea.  The fact that it's a Minotaur and that the Horror Hotel so obviously resembles the myth of the Labyrinth makes the story look almost lazy.  The God Complex, at least to me, is reminiscent of the miniseries of the Stephen King novel It.  In that story, the clown Pennywise menaces a group of children and then as adults in terrifying passion, only to find that the cause of all that menace was a giant spider.  Minus the spider, It was a terrifying story.  Likewise, The God Complex has as its villain a monster than never actually causes the horror.  Even worse, the Minotaur doesn't want to do it (a case of 'I can't help myself'). 

Again and again, the ideas in The God Complex are floating about, only to be pushed down in the weakest excuses.  The fears that menace the residents of Horror Hotel, while intimidating to them, look almost laughable to most of us.  Girls?  Seriously?  That the blogger is afraid of girls is sadly stereotypical (aren't all nerds scared of girls), but when we see Rita's greatest fear, we wonder how someone as bright and rational as her could be so terrified of not meeting her father's approval.  You've got a room where the fear is a clown, and I thought, 'boy, that room must be reserved for Ace'.  Also, we have to wonder what would happen if, by any chance, the people upon facing their fears do manage to get the courage to overcome them, even defeat them.  Would they go back to their home worlds?

It could be that The God Complex goes so disastrously wrong because we find that the only person who is afraid of Rory!  Of all the people who find themselves terrified by disapproving fathers and the opposite sex (wonder what would have happened if Howie were gay), it's the man who's died a thousand times who is the man without fear?  The one who is, or was, suppose to be the comic relief?  The bumbler?  The dimwit?  Even the Doctor has a fear (in Room 11 no less, which looks cute but again not a surprise they would pick that number), although we obviously won't see what his fear is.  Even he isn't surprised or afraid of it, more bored with his greatest fear. 

Whithouse's script doesn't provide any fears (having the villain be a machine seems a cheap way out).  It's a curious thing that Whithouse wrote The Vampires of Venice (which I voted the Worst Story of Season Five).  Minus School Reunion, Whithouse with The God Complex has come up with two simply terrible stories two seasons straight. 

This isn't to say The God Complex doesn't have some good things in it (apart from the idea of fear killing, if not the execution).  The best thing is Karan's Rita.  Her performance is excellent: she is a bright woman who is also a woman of faith.  It's so rare to show someone who is bright and who believes in God (if anything, Doctor Who is fully indoctrinated in the Richard Dawkins school of thought that only atheism makes sense).  I digress to say that in all their Winter Solstice specials, the idea that this thing called Jesus had ANYTHING to do with Christmas and has always gone out of their way to ignore the religious aspects of the Christian holiday.  The idea that a Muslim character, who is devout but rational, is presented as a potential Companion, is a positive step. 

It certainly is a positive step to show a Muslim as equally religious and British.  I always applaud whenever a person of faith is presented as an intelligent, rational person, even one with a sense of humor.  My concern is that the script had a line about her Islamic faith.  When the Doctor sees that Rita is Muslim, she softly tells him, "Don't be frightened".  Somehow, I feel insulted that Whithouse would think the mere fact that she was Muslim is something to fear.  Perhaps it is because I have Muslim friends (who are actually far more politically liberal than I am), but that like struck me as a bit unfair to both the character and the audience. 

I digress further to wonder if Rita were instead an Evangelical Christian would she have been so positively portrayed.  Christians have a point in one sense: most television and films that have Evangelical Christian characters tend to be shown as fanatical, intolerant, almost borderline psychotic.  I find it strange that Doctor Who has no problem bringing in a Muslim character to mention Jahannam, but the mention of Jesus (even on His birthday) is verboten. 

Nick Hurran's direction is good given that he tried to build up terror.  That it didn't work is more the fault of the story than his directing of the actors.  One thing I would fault him with is with the music.  Sometimes the music indicates that The God Complex is almost a comedy while the situation appears to make it a thriller.  The idea that this is a comedy also goes with Walliams' Gribbs, the alien whose planet is constantly conquered (he tells them that their anthem is All Hail...Insert Name Here).  It never worked, and neither did both the resolution where Amy almost automatically gives up on The Doctor (something that happened in a snap) or finding where they were (which looked like they had all been trapped in a revamped TRON) and the denouement. 

What should be a tender, heartbreaking farewell between Amy and Rory Pond feels rushed and horned in to fill time. While watching it, all I could hear was "never can say good-bye..."  Finally, the fact that the idea that FEAR is something to be faced was covered in Night Terrors two episodes earlier.  Having a similar theme in stories so close together is not Whithouse or Hurran's fault, but it not a good idea to have them so close together.  They almost look like companion pieces, though I doubt that was the intent.

In the beginning of The God Complex, the Doctor refers to them as "the Ponds", and I think by this point Rory no longer cares if he's thought of as Rory Pond.  In the same scene, the Doctor calls Rory "Beaky", mocking his nose, but I heard it as "Mickey", going back to an earlier Companion, and again, I think Rory no longer cares.   I don't blame him.

Minus Karan (who overshadowed the regular Companions), The God Complex started out well, then started sinking, and sinking, and sinking.  At one point, I wrote 'Oh, God, this is stupid'.  Given how faith can kill, a fitting comment. 

As for my greatest fear?  That Doctor Who make more episodes as idiotic as The God Complex.

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episode: Zero
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: Closing Time

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rory's Choice


It always seems to be the case that whenever the Doctor promises a delightful holiday to any of his Companions, it always turns out to be a disaster.  It's a bit like Mary Richards' parties on The Mary Tyler Moore Show: no matter how hard Mary tries to give a good party, they always turn out outrageously wrong.  Similarly, the Doctor can promise a nice planet on which to have a few days of relaxation, but he either gets the planet wrong (Carnival of Monsters) or the planet is anything but a respite (The Leisure Hive).  It's almost become a cliche on River Song...I mean, Doctor Who

This is why when the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) told his Companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) he was going to take them for a nice vacation to the Second-Best holiday destination, I knew we were not going to have a story involving them drinking mint juleps while sitting on a veranda getting the vapors.  The Girl Who Waited asks some good questions about the effects (both physical and psychological) about travelling with the Time Lord, and had good performances from the Companions.  However, it wasn't a great story.

As I've stated, the Doctor takes his Companions to what he THINKS is a great holiday resort, but wouldn't you know it: it's just a bunch of white rooms.  Amy goes back to the TARDIS to get her cell phone, while the Doctor and Rory go on ahead.  Rory pushes the Green Button to go into another room.  Amy comes out...and pushes the Red Button.  Obviously, they are in two different rooms, but we soon learn they are in two different TIMES.

The planet they are on, Apalapucia, is under quarantine due to the Chen-7 virus.  This is a one-day virus, meaning that it will kill you in one day.  Under this quarantine, the citizens have one of two options: stay with the diseased for one day (that's the Green Anchor button) or watch them live their life out (said Red Waterfall button).  The Chen-7 virus affects all two-hearted beings, and guess who happens to have two-hearts?  With that, it's now up to Rory, with the Doctor only watching and guiding him, to rescue Amy.

Well, there's a hitch or two.  Hitch One are these Handbots roaming around, informing us that what they are doing is an "act of kindness", one that will unfortunately kill (perhaps this is where the expression 'kill with kindness' comes from).  Hitch Two is that once Rory and the Doctor find Amy, while it's been minutes in their timestream, it's been 36 years for Amy.  In those thirty-six years, she's grown old, bitter, and angry, especially at the Doctor for not rescuing her until now.  Rory, seeing the woman he loves in such a state, ain't too happy with Doc either. 

Rory now faces an impossible decision: which Amy to rescue? 

They make such a cute couple, don't they?

The Girl Who Waited is quite a good episode, in particular because we get to focus more on the characters and less on the external threat (besides, having a story that didn't have River Song already bodes well for any Series/Season Six Doctor Who).  If anything, The Girl Who Waited is a bit of a misnomer, given that the story is more about the long-suffering Rory than about Amy.  Rory has always been The Boy Who Waited.

Rory has waited for Amy to realize that he is eternally and thoroughly besotted with her.  Rory has waited for Amy to be released from the Pandorica, keeping a determined and protective vigil through two millenia (as opposed to River Song, who is merely there to kill the Doctor).  Rory has waited for Amy to put aside her fascination/fixation with the Doctor (there are few men who would be so willing to travel with the man who is their chief rival for his wife's affection).  Rory has endured the miseries of the damned to just breathe the same air as Amy Pond, a woman so flippant towards his undying devotion that she wouldn't even countenance giving their child his name (let alone taking his).  In fact, Rory is so devoted to Amy that it appears HE took HER name and doesn't appear to fazed if he is thought of as Rory POND rather than Rory Williams. 

Even after she becomes so bitter and old, Rory still is in love with Amy--any and all Amys.  He will not leave either Amy (but by the end, we see where his heart truly lies).  He has died four times for her, been turned into an Auton for her, spent two thousand years waiting for her, endured being mocked by her for most of his life (and apparently, even now), and gone through time and space for almost makes one think that despite the build-up Amy Pond has been given as this great Companion, it's Rory Williams who turns out to be a great person.  All the travails Rory has undergone show him to frankly to be too good for her, not the other way around. 

How odd that as I wrote and reflected on The Girl Who Waited, my opinion on Rory Williams went up tremendously.  No, I don't think he's anywhere near the Top Ten of Companions, but in terms of good men, Rory is certainly in the Top Five.  It almost makes me feel bad I have a Rory Williams Death Count (although given how often the various Who writers appear to use him as an easy way to create drama by killing him again...and again...and again...).  However, in The Girl Who Waited, he is struck down by a Handbot, which I thought would lead to death.  Amy quickly revives him, so while it's not strictly another instance of Rory being killed, it veers dangerously close to it. 

Darvill still manages to bring a slightly comic relief to his slightly bumbling Rory, but his performance is a rich one, where Rory is allowed to take a more dominant role in this Doctor-lite episode.  He is both heroic and tragic, even more so given how Old Amy would rather not help her younger version if it could possibly make Rory happy.  He's been through so much, suffered so much because of and for her, you'd think she'd be a little more appreciative.   Darvill is simply splendid in The Girl Who Waited, a man who will not give up on the woman he loves no matter what.  He rages at the Doctor, he mourns the loss of Amy, he expresses heroism and heartbreak.  It's nice to see him develop into a much better character than the caricature he usually is (although he still has some of that).

Another strong performance is from Gillan as Amy.  She has to play both the younger and older versions of herself, and with a bit of help from the old-age make-up, she truly appears older.  Gillan also acted the anger of the older Amy excellently, bringing a bitterness that is almost frightening.

Given that Smith had very little to nothing to do in The Girl Who Waited (conveniently put out of the story with the greatest of plot devices: if he goes out, he dies), it's hard to gauge how good he could have been if he had been asked to carry the burden of the story (of course, given that for most of the series/season, it was River, not the Doctor, who was the focus of attention, it's something Smith should be used to by now). 

Nick Hurran's direction of the actors is top-rate, and Tom MacRae's screenplay has been one of the better Series/Season Six stories to come down the pipe in a while (especially after the River Song debacle).  MacRae has the audience focus on the effects all this time travel has on the Companions, how they are separated by time with devastating effects for all involved.  It also turned our attention to Rory, a character that is so easily dismissed that he can be killed off several times with no one batting an eye.

As I watched, I thought The Girl Who Waited was clever (in particular in focusing more on the main characters rather than their obstacles), and well-acted.  However, I can't say that it is by any means perfect.  The Handbots didn't appear to be a great threat (and somehow, the name Handbots is unfortunately reminiscent of Fembots--sorry, that was what ran through my mind).  It also has me asking one or two questions.

First, in all the thirty-six years Amy has been successfully dodging said Handbots, she couldn't find the central console that would enable her to become Overlord of Apalapucia?  Second, and perhaps more damning, is the Button business. 

Now, I know that if she HAD selected the Green Button rather than the Red Button we wouldn't have had a story, but when Rory tells her to "push the button", wouldn't the logical thing for Amy do to is simply ask, "Which button?" before pushing either of them?  I think there could have been a better way for Amy to be separated from Rory and the Doctor (say, the Handbots separate the men and women or Amy finds herself in quarantine when she steps out of the TARDIS after the men).  I couldn't help think that if I had been there, unsure which button to push, I would have asked, "Which button?" rather than just pick one.  We could have had a scene where the Doctor and Rory start discussing which button they did push, not remembering.  That, to my mind, would have provided a more logical way for her to have hit the wrong button--as they continue arguing over whether it was the Red or Green button, Amy becomes so frustrated she hits one.

There were also puns I didn't think too funny or clever.  For example, there is the Handbot's literally "killing with kindness" business, or when we see the companion Amy has fashioned for herself from a disarmed Handbot.  When I say disarmed, I mean disarmed in every sense of the word; her giving the "disarmed" Handbot the name Rory, then telling the human Rory that the Handbot Rory was more of a pet than a companion, is just another way to slap her eternal Last Centurion.  How much abuse he endures at her cold Scottish hands. 

Finally, a minor point that is probably not the fault of MacRae or Hurran.  The white chambers in The Girl Who Waited were eerily reminiscent of Episode One of the Second Doctor story The Mind Robber, where the Companions similarly appear to be lost in a world of white.  I know, this is a bit nitpicky, but I couldn't help think on it.  Most who only watch the revived series won't think on (or maybe even be aware of) The Mind Robber, so I'm not making it a big deal.  However, it was a bit distracting to me. 

The Girl Who Waited is on the whole a good, strong episode.  With this and Night Terrors, one wonders why Steven Moffat and Company think we need an arc that connects most if not all stories together into some faux-epic.   This is when Doctor Who works best: when it's allowed to have episodes that excite, thrill, terrify, and work alone and apart from each other.  In the end, The Girl Who Waited isn't the best Series/Season Six Who story, but perhaps in terms of improvements over what's come before, the wait may finally be over.

Rory Williams Death Count

In Episode: 0.1
(He appeared to be killed by a Handbot)
Overall: 4.1


Next Story: The God Complex

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Only Thing We Have to Fear


All children are afraid of monsters, under the bed, in the closet.  It is common in children's stories for there to be something lurking in the dark, something menacing, dangerous, that will put a child's life in peril.  It is that fear that children have, of which they are conscious of, that shapes one: either to outgrow them (and slowly take up the burdens of adulthood) or to become overwhelmed by them (for some people, fear is a way of life).  Night Terrors capitalizes on the common fear factor in children to great success. 

In contemporary London, little boy George (Jamie Oram) is terrified of everything: the noise of the lift/elevator, the old lady neighbor, the landlord, old toys.  All the things George is scared of (minus the humans) are thrown into the cupboard in George's room.  George, however, is still afraid: so afraid that he calls out for help, for someone to "save me from the monsters".  Fortunately for him, this message crosses time and space, to reach The Doctor (Matt Smith), who whisks himself and his Companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband Rory Pond...I mean, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) to George's estates home (what we in America would call the projects).

George's parents, Alex and Claire (Daniel Mays and Emma Cunniffe) are extremely worried about their son, and think that perhaps he should see a Doctor.  Miracle of miracles, there's one that makes house calls.  While Claire is at work (after having repeated George's ritual of turning the lights on and off five times), it's Alex that greets the Doctor.  The Doctor is his usual frenetic self, but who is able to comfort the boy at first.  When he wants to open the cupboard, the Doctor becomes alarmed, even terrified.  Alex has his own problems: dealing with landlord Jim Purcell (Andrew Tiernan), who not surprisingly scares George.

Meanwhile, Amy and Rory have taken a frightening ride in the lift, and find themselves in a dark empty house.  Rory at first believes he's dead again (even this guy knows it gets a bit silly) but we find that they are in a house with odd materials and dolls.  To their horror, they find that the dolls inside the house are very much alive, and that they turn any human there into dolls.  To Rory's horror, Amy herself is captured and becomes a doll (surprising in that it wasn't Rory who met a grim fate this time).

Eventually, the Doctor and Alex find the courage to open the find clothes and a doll house.  However, something is off, and the Doctor comes to find what it is: even while George is their son, the photos of Claire a month before his birth show she's not pregnant, and Alex remembers Claire can't have children.  How then, to explain George?  No time to think, since Alex and the Doctor are sucked into the cupboard and into the doll's house (I wonder if Henrik Ibsen was an influence). 

We then discover that George is a Tenza, an alien being who hatches and becomes whatever its adoptees want it to be (in this case, a son).  George's fears stem from a fear that he is going to be sent away by Alex and Claire, and Alex is a bit reluctant to embrace an alien as his child.  However, as the dolls (including Amy), begin to surround George, Alex's fatherly instinct kicks in, and promises George never to abandon him.  With that, the fears cease, and all is restored.

I think that what elevates Night Terrors is the fact that it is so obviously a parable about the fears all people have either as children or adults.  It's not just about monsters per se, but about fear of abandonment, about whether we are truly loved by the parents.  It also goes to the fears parents have: will I be able to protect my child, will I be able to embrace a child I know is not mine.  Mark Gatiss' script is very smart about keeping things moving and filling in the audience about things that are obvious.

It is obvious soon enough that Amy and Rory are INSIDE the cupboard.  It is obvious soon enough that George is at the heart of the goings-on.  It is obvious that only George will be able to resolve the situation by doing what all children (and some adults) will have to eventually do: face their fears.

The performances are far and above what we've seen in previous episodes.  Guest star Mays keeps an amazing balance between the caring father and the comic relief in his fears and frustrations over George along with his befuddlement over what is going on and exactly who and what the Doctor is.  It is one of the best performances of the series,

Darvill, in a rarity, takes a more active role in Night Terrors than he's done.  He isn't the comedic aspect of the story.  This is primarily because he, not Amy, is the one who is transformed.  Instead, being the one kept alive allowed him an urgency and a chance to take charge.

As a side note, it is a curious thing that Night Terrors is a remarkably male-centric story.  From George to Alex to Rory & the Doctor, women were relegated to almost nothing in Night Terrors.  Of course, given that the subtext was the story of fathers and sons, it is no surprise. 

Director Richard Clark kept a steady pace, building suspense upon suspense.  He never let up on how he kept withholding the revealing of the monsters, primarily by keeping the viewer officially out of the cupboard as long as possible.  This despite the fact that, again, it was obvious that Amy and Rory (along with the neighbors caught up in the mayhem) were inside the cupboard.  Again however, I would argue that Gatiss' script was suppose to be obvious.  Both Gatiss and Clark made a good old-fashioned horror story with Night Terrors, a Doctor Who that will have the children hiding behind the sofa but with the positive message that a parent (noticeable a father, a figure that sadly plays less and less of a role in children's lives) will in the end, protect them. 

It is a brilliant idea brilliantly executed.  Few Doctor Who stories are clear about positive messages to its youngest viewers and address things straight to them, even more rare in the revived series.  Night Terrors is an episode for them, to let them know that in the end, the Doctor, as good as he is, can't provide the protection they need as well as their Mum and Dad.  It also makes clear that they as children eventually have to face their fears, and that they can defeat them. 

If it has any faults it is, oddly enough, in its obviousness.  It also is reminiscent of both The Eleventh Hour (a child is afraid of something in their room only to have the Doctor show up and find that the scary thing was something alien) as well as the film Poltergeist (the scene where Alex and the Doctor are taken into the cupboard required only for George to say, "they're here").  The fact that George turns out to be an alien appears to be thrown in to give Night Terrors some sense: the reason the fears come alive is because he that has them causes them himself, and that's because he's not human.  To my mind it didn't quite fit, but if George were human, it would have come much closer in making Night Terrors more Poltergeist in nature. 

Night Terrors is scary without being too scary for the intended audience.  It has a positive message, and in a rare move, all ends well for everyone concerned (everyone is restored and George overcomes his fears).  Without the Eye-Patch Lady or River Song in the mix, we find that Doctor Who doesn't need gimmicks to make good stories.  Instead, by going back to the basics, Night Terrors show us that we will fear no evil. 

Rory Williams Death Count

In Episode: Zero (though he thought he was dead)
Overall: Four


Monday, April 2, 2012

And Their Child Shall Lead Them

STORY 226: RIVER'S SECRET PARTS 1 & 2 (A Good Man Goes To War/Let's Kill Hitler)

It is truly difficult to write about River's Secret Parts 1 & 2 for me because of many reasons.  One: I simply have never warmed to River Song as a character the way I did with other Companions such as Romana, Ace, Rose Tyler, and Sarah Jane Smith (who, to my mind, is the Citizen Kane of Companions).  In the various episodes River was in, I always thought she was was the appendix: something that could be removed and not be missed.  Two: I always thought she was just a bit TOO clever, TOO smart, for her own good, as if she was given an almost divine quality to be, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.  Third: I am hampered by the fact that as of this writing, I have yet to see Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead)

It isn't because I knew River was going to be there, it's just that after the disaster that was/is Love & Monsters (and if anyone can defend that pile of shit, I'd like to meet that I could whack him/her upside the head) I quit watching Doctor Who, not resuming viewing until The Waters of Mars (and that was only because I knew David Tennant was leaving).  Even worse, the Fifth Season was pretty good, but this one...oy vey have I found it "must-skip TV". 

In all her adventures with The Doctor, it just seems that River Song becomes the dominant character, reducing the Doctor to merely a supporting player in his own series.  To my mind, it's become such a problem that at times I (sometimes) in jest refer to the program AS River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who).  They might as well change the name of the show given how much build-up her creator Steven Moffat has done into pushing the idea that she's this gigantic ICON of Doctor Who, surpassing such characters as the Daleks, the Master, Romana or Sarah Jane, perhaps even The Doctor himself.

Now that I've seen A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler (which I have retitled River's Secret), I can see that perhaps I am finally relieved of this "icon" once and for all.  That to my mind, would be a great service to a television program that functioned surprisingly well long before she first uttered, "Hello, Sweetie" and will live long after she slips out one last "Spoilers". 

Part I: A Good Man Goes To War

Having seen in The Gangers that Amy (Karen Gillan) is being held prisoner and about to give birth, we find that she is on the asteroid Demon's Run.  The Doctor (Matt Smith) recruits a series of aliens from the past (Silurians, Sontarans, Captain Henry from The Curse of the Black Spot, and Centurion Rory among others) to get Amy back.  Only the Legendary Legend of Legendness, Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) declines, stating she can't see the Doctor until the very end. 

On Demon's Run, the Eye-Patch Lady, now known as Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), takes the child, known as Melody Pond (we'll get to why she's not Melody Williams in good time), for her own nefarious scheme which involves getting rid of The Doctor.  Meanwhile,  the asteroid is being guarded by the Headless Monks and the Church Army, all awaiting the Doctor's attack.  The Doctor and his ragtag army quickly overtakes Demon's Run...too quickly and too easily in fact.  A sympathetic Cleric, Lorna (Christina Cheung), who once met the Doctor, tells him that this was all a major trap.  While Amy IS rescued, little Melody was secretly replaced with Folger's Crystals coffee...I mean, with a Flesh duplicate. 

After being tricked twice and having little Melody Pond taken, River FINALLY shows up and does what she does best: show up the Doctor.  She finally reveals her identity, first to a delighted Doctor (who flies off on his TARDIS), then to Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill).  Where she was raised, there is no word for "pond", with the only water being "river", and since Melody is a type of Song, and both a Pond and a River have water...well, you get the idea.

Part II: Let's Kill Hitler

The Doctor gets back to Amy and Rory, now who contact him via crop circles.  Crashing the party is Amy and Rory's childhood friend Mels (Nina Toussant-White), a bad girl from the moment they met as children.  Running from the law, Mels pulls a gun and demands the Doctor take her into the past so, as she puts it, "let's kill Hitler".

As it so happens, this idea isn't a new one.  A janitor appears to be planning the same thing, only it's not a real janitor.  It is the Teselecta, an advanced ship that looks human which is populated by shrunken people.  They are there to kill Hitler, but they realize they are too early to merit out justice.  Fortunately for them (and for Hitler), the TARDIS crashes right at this time (something to do with Mels having shot the TARDIS).

Soon, the Teselecta finds that one of the people in that room is one of the greatest criminals of all time.  Obviously, it's not Hitler.  We find that Mels has been shot, but of course, that would be too easy, and to their shock they watch Mels being The Legendary Legend of Legendness, the Single Greatest Character in Television History, the Best Idea Ever to come from Doctor Who, the most important creation in all of science-fiction, ladies and gentlemen...Doctor----River-----Song!!!

Now, she must complete her mission...kill the Doctor.  They have their banter, they outwit each other, but River does manage to strike at the Doctor.  He has to flee to the TARDIS to find a way to survive, while Amy and Rory have to pursue their erstwhile daughter through the streets of Nazi Berlin.  They do find her, as does the Teselecta.  The Teselecta crew takes Amy and Rory aboard where a lot is explained: how the crew is there, what their purpose is, who and what River Song is.

Just when things are looking bleak (except for the torturing of River Song, which thrilled my heart), the Doctor shows up in top hat and tails, asking, "Doctor Who?"  The Teselecta tells them something about how the Silence (which is not a race but a religious order) believes that "Silence will fall" when the First Question is asked...said question unknown.  As the Doctor lays dying, River (who is unaware of who she is), is moved to go against her lifelong training and saves the Doctor...conveniently giving up all her remaining regenerations along the way.  Now, she is restored, and we end at what we see is River Song's beginning of her career as an archaeologist...where she is looking for a good man.

I feel overwhelmed with my feelings of sorry disappointment at River's Secret (and the whole of this season of River Song).  For me, River's Secret was a parody, a spoof of Doctor Who.  I know I fight a lonely battle, for River's Secret is highly praised.  I, however, can only offer up my own conclusions as to why River Song and River's Secret is a mess. 

As I watched Part 1, I thought that it was going to be a Doctor-lite episode, given how director Peter Hoar (Richard Senior directing Part 2) kept holding the Doctor's appearance back...and back...and back, until having his big reveal.  That aspect was one of the few good ones, but everything else in Part 1 was so jumbled that I felt that a lot was thrown in just for kicks.  It was a cavalcade of guest stars, guest characters, and guest events from previous episodes that one wondered if it was suppose to be a nostalgia trip, as I called it, The Doctor's Greatest Hits

That wasn't the worst aspect about having a Silurian or Sontaran or the intergalactic R.A.F. buzzing about Demon's Run.  The worst aspect is that this being the case, we see the Doctor didn't solve the situation of rescuing Amy on his own...all he did was call in some favors.  If one wants to go back to the past, I thought it was rather generous of the Doctor to go and get help from creatures that one year earlier had all conspired to lock him up in the Pandorica.  In fact, I couldn't help but think River's Secret Part 1 WAS similar to The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2 but with one twist: this time they were helping rather than incarcerating the Doctor. 

You have great villains introduced, these Headless Monks, and you really don't do anything with them.  They don't take a large role in the proceedings in Part 1 (and are nowhere in Part 2) so I wondered what point they had in the story.  Add to that, when they do appear to be menacing, they have what appear to be lightsabers.  Seriously, they looked like lightsabers (or am I again, the only one who thought that?), and with their robes, one couldn't help think Obi-Wan was hiding under there. 

When we're introduced to The Big Twist, it isn't either particularly original or shocking.  The names Melody=Song, isn't too hard to work out.  However, and here's where I would argue Stephen Moffat got it wrong, it only works if you diminish Rory to a mere sperm donor.  River Song and Melody Pond being one and the same only works if the child is given the mother's name rather than the father's. 

Yes, it is probable that Amy never took on her husband's name (although sometimes I refer to her as Amy Pond-Williams), but how is it likely that their child would bear her mother's maiden name and not her husband's name?  It's almost amusing how quick Amy is to dismiss Rory's idea that his daughter should not bear his name.  I think Moffat, like most writers, has a set pattern, and he likes water-themed names (Pond, River).  He wrote Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead), so when the chance came to put his creation River Song into his series of Doctor Who, he hit on the fact that his other creation had another body of water in her name. 

Stephen Moffat looks upon River Song for the first time.

Stephen Moffat had fallen in love with his own creation.  River Song was going to be beloved, the Icon of Icons, but some of us have built up stiff resistance to her.  My biggest beef with River Song is that whenever she's on screen, she dominates to where the show starts revolving around her.  I'm old-school in that Doctor Who should be about The Doctor, not about his Companions, and certainly not about a secondary character like River Song.  In Part 1, the Doctor waits for HER!  He can't do it without HER!  She, River Song, is at the center of everything, and I still won't accept that Doctor Who is not about the Doctor.  I could take an episode around Romana, or Sarah Jane, but River Song?

My second point of contention with River Song is the fact that she is now part-Time Lord.  It's not because she is the Doctor's daughter (been there, done that), but because she was conceived on the TARDIS.  I was, granted, unaware the machine had THAT much power, but am I the only one who thinks the whole idea absurd?  If that's the case, all the Doctor has to do is turn the TARDIS into a brothel and he can bring back the Time Lords back from extinction. 

It is amazingly difficult to embrace Part 1, but Part 2 (if thought of as a stand-alone episode) is not only a disaster, it's downright laughable.  The little people inside the big human-sized robot?  Didn't Eddie Murphy do that in Meet Dave?  While watching Part 2, I was dismayed to see Moffat decided to do a spoof of Doctor Who.  Why do I call it a spoof?  It has to do with the "witty banter" River and the Doctor have in Hitler's office.  When River finally comes out to kill the Doctor, they constantly up the other:

I knew you'd do XYZ, so I did ABC.

I knew you knew, so while you did ABC I did DEF.

I knew you knew I knew, so while you did DEF I did GHI.

I knew you knew I knew you knew, so while you did GHI I did JKL.

You get the picture, but in case you don't, I have one for you:

The Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death played hilariously with this one-upsmanship convention, but that was MEANT to be ridiculous (if endearing).  In Part 2, it doesn't have the same effect.  Upon learning that Moffat wrote The Curse of Fatal Death, was he merely recycling old jokes in order to be funny?  If he meant Part 2 to be a comedy,  I'll be the first to admit I didn't get the joke.

If we go over Let's Kill Hitler, I think that, in hindsight, nearly everything about it was meant to be one long joke.  From the poisoned lips of Poison Ivy...I mean, River Song, to the aliens inside the Teselecta being 'beamed up' a la Star Trek, the identity of 'Mels' (it has to be too obvious to not get it), and the killer's reluctance to complete her mission (which made me think of The Naked Gun), as a drama the thing is a disaster.  As a comedy, it does much better.

Still, was it all meant to be a comedy? 

If one thinks about it, the second part is worse than the first.  Hitler is irrelevant to Let's Kill Hitler.  Mels could easily have had us go kill the Kaiser or Torquemada or Genghis Khan or Augusto Pinochet.  It might be funny to have Hitler thrown into the cupboard, but somehow, again, the whole second act could have taken place anywhere in time and space.  There was no point to Hitler (a statement more true than anything here), so Let's Kill Hitler is really not a truthful title, merely a catchy one. 

That isn't to say that River's Secret does indeed have some good things.  As much as I deride River Song, that does not extend to Alex Kingston, who in her last moments, recovering in the hospital, almost moved me (although I confess to being thrilled to see such an obnoxious character being tortured).  I also thought Arthur Darvill as Rory has grown from being the bumbling idiot from The Eleventh Hour to someone Amy might possibly leave the Doctor for. 

Smith, on the other hand, has now almost completely annoyed me as The Doctor.  I was one of his champions, and while Part 1 showed the angrier side to the Doctor, Part 2 only reinforces two things about the Smith Era: 1.) the Doctor's a bit of a joke, and 2.) he isn't the most important character in Doctor Who.  Appearing in top hat and tails (and all but singing Puttin' On the Ritz) was already silly.  Having him say, "Doctor...Doctor Who?" is just groan-inducing. 

As a side note, if we find that the First Question is either "Who is The Doctor?" or "Doctor Who?" or any variation thereof, I might just never watch another Doctor Who episode post The Wedding of River Song

I won't object to the idea that River Song doesn't know who she is after her second regeneration, but I do wonder how the little girl who regenerates at the end of Day of the Moon Part 2 in New York City 1970 ended up in Scotland and in the early 00s.  Here's where things are getting a bit tricky:

IF Amy is seven in 1996 when The Eleventh Hour starts, that would put her birth year as 1989 (which is close to Gillan's year of 1987.  Rory could be a little older, and given Darvill's birth year is 1982, it can work).  HOWEVER, when the little girl regenerated (and it's established in Let's Kill Hitler that the little girl from Day of the Moon Part 2 IS indeed River Song), the year is 1970 (since it takes place six months after the lunar landing of July 20, 1969).

In order for us to believe any of this, we have to believe that River Song I would not only regenerate from American to British but that somehow River Song II would be able to suspend her aging process to where she could easily pass for someone nearly twenty years younger.  For all this to work, the little girl from Day of the Moon (as played by Sydney Wade, I peg somewhere between six to eight) would have to have remained somewhere around six to eight to have that lifelong relationship with Amy and Rory.

In a purely technical issue, if River Song I were, at the youngest, six, when she first regenerates in 1970, wouldn't it stand to reason that by the time Amy is born in 1989 River Song II would be about twenty-four?  That, therefore, would mean that River Song II (who is revealed to be Mels, Amy and Rory's lifelong friend), would be old enough to be Amy's mother!

Timey-wimey indeed.

Also, if I remember correctly, River Song I knows she'll be all right because she knows the process of regeneration.  When I first watched it, it made me think the little girl had perhaps regenerated before.  So we have a case where the final River Song could be River Song IV rather than III.

Timey-wimey double indeed.

I know this may all sound so idiotically nerdy, so maddenly super-specific to where I appear to forget that it's all a fiction (like those Trekkies obsessed over the number of horses on Kirk's ranch), but somehow I'm not buying any of this.  It may be that I may be the one mistaken by the time frame, that maybe I am getting myself hopelessly confused, and that the smarter set will put things right.  However, I'm going by what information I got from both Day of the Moon I & II and River's Secret I & II, and that makes me think that everything about River Song is illogical. 

For me, River Song is at the heart of what is wrong with River's Secret and with the first part of Doctor Who Series/Season Six.   SHE is the focus of the story (and perhaps the season), SHE is the center of attention, and somehow, despite Moffat's best efforts, I can't bring myself to watch a series about THAT WOMAN.   River's Secret, especially Part 2, almost appeared to play as parody.  Again, maybe it was the intention to make this two-parter into a comedy, something to laugh about. 

It's obvious then that I didn't get the joke. 

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episodes: Zero
Overall: Four


Next Episode: Night Terrors

Damn This River!